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Witnesses to fatal standoff sought

The fight began Saturday at a middle school carnival.

It ended Monday night with a gang-related shooting that killed two troubled former Leto High School students, one of them a few weeks shy of his 17th birthday.

Two men, 18 and 19, told sheriff's detectives they fired "warning shots" while facing off against a dozen or so teens near Woodbridge Elementary School. But by Tuesday night, authorities had not charged the men in the deaths of 16-year-old Sebastian C. Luengas and 20-year-old Michael Lee Roberts.

Instead, investigators were conferring with the State Attorney's Office and trying to find all of the witnesses and participants in Monday's standoff.

"There are some issues with self-defense that we are exploring," sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said.

Detectives called the shooting gang-related but did not specify which of western Hillsborough's dozen or so known gangs were involved.

"How in depth this goes with gangs, we don't know yet," Callaway said. "It could be a collaboration of gangs. We don't know."

The Town 'N Country area is a focus of efforts by Sheriff David Gee to crack down on gang activity in unincorporated Hillsborough, where the Latin Kings and Sur-13s each have more than 100 known members. In September, Gee announced that a six-month push by his newly created task force led to the arrests of 105 gang members and associates.

Monday's shooting was the sort of incident that the task force works to prevent.

"We are not surprised that violence occurred," Callaway said. "We're disturbed that it reached this level."

Callaway said the shooting was the culmination of a fight between two groups of teens Saturday night on the grounds of Webb Middle School, at a carnival to raise money for the school's PTSA.

On Monday night, with retaliation in mind, 10 to 12 teens, including Roberts and Luengas, piled into three vehicles and drove to a house on Woodgrove Circle, Callaway said.

The 18- and 19-year-old men came out. Sheriff's officials did not release their names. Property records show the home is owned by Evelyn and Freddie Vasquez, who have a 19-year-old son.

The two sides started throwing rocks, bricks and bottles, detectives and witnesses said. The 18- and 19-year-old each pulled out a shotgun and fired, Callaway said.

Witness Bryan Cortes said he was in a Honda Accord with friends, driving down Northbridge Boulevard, when it was pelted with objects. Cortes and his friends got out of the car. He ran toward the Woodgrove Circle house to see what was happening. He saw someone fire a gun toward Luengas and Roberts.

"I couldn't do nothing for them," said Cortes, 18, who had known Luengas since middle school.

Roberts died in front of Woodbridge Elementary School, about a mile from his home. Someone drove Luengas to Town & Country Hospital, where he died.

Cortes' friend Joseph Figueroa, 18, said he thought the shooters belonged to the Bloods gang.

The youngest of four children, Luengas faced serious felony charges for a recent arrest.

In November, Hillsborough sheriff's deputies arrested him on charges of armed robbery and conspiracy to traffic in 400 grams of cocaine, a felony punishable by life in prison.

Luengas pleaded not guilty, court records indicate. He was scheduled to go before Judge Ronald Ficarrotta on March 30.

On Tuesday morning, several of Luengas' friends and relatives gathered at his home, a two-story stucco house in the Citrus Park subdivision of Fawn Ridge.

"I'm not going to lie; he was not a straight-A student," said Fiorella Luengas, his sister-in-law. "But he was no gang member."

She described him as an outgoing boy who was good at math and wanted to study criminal justice. He dropped out of Leto High School last year but intended to go back. He worked at a painting business with his father, she said. He saved up money for his own car and had a girlfriend.

He left home about 9 p.m. Monday to hang out with friends. About an hour later, Luengas' parents received a phone call that he was at Town & Country Hospital.

Like Luengas' family, Roberts' family insisted he was not a gang member. He just hung out with a bad crowd, said his mother, Cathy Roberts, 51.

Roberts was arrested in Hernando County in September 2003 on charges of aggravated battery and burglary, according to state criminal records. He was sentenced to juvenile sanctions, including probation.

In July 2004, he was convicted in Hillsborough County of burglary, grand theft, dealing in stolen property and providing false information to a pawnbroker. He served nearly four months in the county jail.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies charged him in February 2005 with violating the terms of his probation. He served 10 more months in the county jail before being released in December.

His mother said he had been working at his father's print shop and tinkering with his beatup car, a maroon Nissan 300ZX. He grew up in Town 'N Country with his younger brother and two older sisters. He attended but did not graduate from Leto High.

"He was always a very giving person," she said. "He did anything for anybody."

Cathy Roberts said her son did not attend Saturday's carnival, and he didn't know where he was going when he got into a car with friends Monday night.

"They just ended up there," she said.

On Tuesday, a basket holding a potted plant and white flowers appeared a few feet from the bloodstains in the street. A parent's note, handwritten in Spanish, paid tribute to "a beloved son, Sebastian."

Broken bricks were scattered on curbsides, in front of houses and on lawns. The neighborhood is a middle-class residential area of single-story houses.

John Stefonsky, a military veteran who worked as a sergeant at the Hillsborough Correctional Institution, has had enough of the gangs in his neighborhood. Gang members walk up and down the streets flaunting their colors, he said. They hurl paintballs at homes, breaking windows.

Come summer, after 30 years here, he is moving to Georgia.

"We're just getting too old to confront this stuff," he said.

Ruth Dorros, 73, who lives across from Woodbridge Elementary, said she has always felt safe enough in her home to sit on the open front porch.

But on Monday night, her two grown daughters pulled out of the driveway onto Woodgrove Circle.

That's when they saw Roberts' body lying in the street.

Times staff writer Alexandra Zayas and researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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